Common Tread

Trendwatch: Maximum power vs. maximum control

Mar 07, 2014

One major trend we've noticed lately is the switch from a focus on top speed to a focus on electronic rider aids. Nice to see we've finally figured out we already go plenty fast.

In 1999, Suzuki introduced the GSX1300R, better known as the Hayabusa, and it sat unchallenged on the throne of power and speed for six years. Kawasaki followed with the ZX-14 in 2005 and officially made this insane group a new class of its own, instead of a one-bike gimmick.

The Suzuki Hayabusa. Suzuki photo.
That’s not to say the Hayabusa sold like a gimmick. They flew out of dealers’ showrooms, and so did the Kawasaki 14s. Motorcyclists love to one-up each other and have the most powerful and fastest, at least on paper. These new beasts were perfect for that sort of rider. They were great in a straight line, stable at super-high speeds, and had the specs to make any sissy on a 600cc sport bike blush. That isn’t to say they couldn’t do anything else (in fact we think the ‘Busa is a great all-around sport-touring bike), but it was their power that made their fame.

The BMW S1000RR. BMW photo.
In the following years, liter-class sport bikes seemed to be going the same way, with companies often releasing products with one more horsepower or that could hit one mile per hour faster. The BMW S1000RR was released at the turn of the decade, taking the speed-king throne from the larger 1300cc and 1400cc bikes. Initially introduced to compete in World Superbike (WSBK) racing, it was no surprise when the canyon jockeys had to have one. The most interesting part of the S1000RR, however, was the emphasis placed on the electronic rider aids made available to help us mere mortals experience such a machine without being eaten alive by its brutality.

The Honda CB500X. Honda photo.
Fast forward a few years and things like multiple fuel maps, traction control, wheelie control, and launch control are now available on most of the supersport selections and are even finding their way onto nakeds, motards, and adventure bikes. Hell, even Honda’s entry-level CB500 line comes with ABS as an option.

More importantly, the manufacturers are using these electronic rider aids to market their bikes. Even more importantly, people are buying motorcycles based on the rider aids they provide.

Motorcycles are still bananas fast, but, as a rider community, we’re starting to value the overall ride and the ability to control our bikes over being able to hit a certain speed.

Personally, I think it’s been a long time coming. The fastest guys I know ride 600cc supersports and I don’t really see a need for anything larger for street riding . I appreciate Ducati and Aprilia creating their monsters in a package that is a little more street sized, and the BMW is actually a really nice ride on the street, but they’re all geared too high for city streets and better suited to the track. I end up riding everywhere in first gear to keep from bogging down the engine and then jumping into sixth to save gas on the freeway. Canyon riding, at least around L.A. where there are some really nice roads, is too tight to really use that power. Seems like a big waste of bike, right?

What are your thoughts? Do you feel you need more than your superport bike can provide or are you more interested in seeing the manufacturers continue to focus on improving electronic rider aids to help you get the most out of even the smallest of bikes?